Pickled Cherries with Five-Spice Blend

pickled cherries recipe
Cherries, like most fruits, are best eaten right out of hand. There’s no doubt about that. The next best thing to fresh cherries, as I have recently discovered, would be pickled cherries. I used to reserve that runner-up spot for cherry jam and brandy-preserved cherries. That is no longer the case.

So if you, like me, always find yourself buying more fresh cherries than you can eat in a few days, try pickling them.

In the book, Live to Cook, Michael Symon has included a recipe for refrigerator pickled cherries. Fresh cherries aren’t boiled to death; instead, they simply enjoy a warm, syrupy bath of crimson pickling liquid which has been infused with assorted spices. The cherries are then kept refrigerated, allowing them to stay cool, fresh, firm, and juicy. The result is sweet and tart cherries with the fragrance and flavor of warm, autumnal spices permeating every part of their beings.

pickling recipe
I have experimented with different spices and found the five-spice mix to be the best. For this most recent batch, I added a few dried bay leaves (which is not part of the five-spice blend) to the mix and they made that which was already excellent even better. Feel free to use whichever spice blend you like.

According to the recipe, you’re supposed to bring the pickling liquid to a boil, then simmer it for 10 minutes. That was exactly what I did for my first two batches. However, I have found that thicker, more syrupy pickling liquid produces pickled cherries that retain their texture and color better, and are more intense in flavor, not to mention less wrinkly towards the end of their shelf lives. This has led me to reduce the liquid down to approximately 1/3 of its original volume before pouring it over the cherries.

Also, the recipe says the cherries are supposed to be fully submerged. However, I’ve found that even though the amount of the thicker pickling liquid, done my way, is too small to cover all of the cherries, not only does this not jeopardize the quality of the end product, it also enhances it. And if you wonder how you can pickle something without fully submerging it in pickling liquid, be assured that upon standing the salt in the liquid will draw out the natural juices from the cherries and within a few hours you will see more liquid in the jar than you initially put in it and your cherries will be fully submerged eventually.

pickled cherries recipe
The last tweak is that I use my homemade cherry vinegar in the pickling liquid. The original recipe calls for red wine vinegar which works beautifully. I just wanted to go all cherry all the way.

How do I love use these pickled cherries? Let me count the ways.


  • Serve them with a platter of assorted cheeses.
  • Halve and pit them and use them in muffins, quick breads, cakes, etc.
  • Chop them up and put them in drop cookies.
  • Mix them into a salad of fresh greens and shaved Parmesan or Fontina cheese.
  • Legally Erin makes pickled cherry muffins.
  • I’m sure there are several other uses which I have not explored. If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

    Pickled Cherries with Five-Spice Blend
    Adapted from Pickled Cherries by Michael Symon‘s Live to Cook
    Makes 2 quarts
    Printable Version

    pickle recipe
    2 lbs sweet or sour cherries, stems and pits intact
    3 cups (24 fl. oz.) cherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
    1 cup sugar
    1 1/2 tablespoons salt
    1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns
    3 cinnamon sticks
    3 bay leaves
    3 pieces of star anise
    2 teaspoons whole cloves
    1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds

  • With a small fork or a toothpick, puncture each cherry 5-6 times to allow the pickling juice to penetrate the fruit. Place the cherries into a glass jar.
  • In a medium pot, mix together the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let the mixture simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced to 1/3 of its original volume. Remove the pot from heat and let the pickling liquid cool down for 10 minutes.
  • Pour the liquid over the cherries in the jar. If the cherries are not fully submerged, that’s okay. In a few hours, they will release more juice into the pickling liquid. Let the cherries cool down completely before closing the lid.
  • Keep the pickled cherries in the seal jar in the refrigerator. To prolong the life of the pickled cherries, use a clean spoon every time you dig into the cherry jar. The pickled cherries, refrigerated, will keep up to one month. Keep in mind that the longer they keep, the more wrinkly and the more pale they will become.
  • 18 Responses to Pickled Cherries with Five-Spice Blend

    1. lisaiscooking June 18, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

      Cherry vinegar is a great idea! The flavor of the pickled cherries with it must be amazing. I like the idea of reducing the syrup more too. I’ll do that next time.

    2. doggybloggy June 18, 2010 at 1:41 pm #

      not even sure how to say “load me up” or whatever other “gimme” phrase to let you know that I so completely want to taste these cherries!

    3. Leela June 18, 2010 at 1:44 pm #

      “Load me up” works for me, Christo! 🙂

    4. 5 Star Foodie June 18, 2010 at 4:07 pm #

      I love the idea of pickled cherries and must make them really soon!

    5. cleverbean June 19, 2010 at 1:14 am #

      Do you know a way to make this last longer? This seems like the perfect holiday gift, and cherries are only in season here for another week or two. I’d love to use seasonal cherries if there was a way to make the pickled cherries last longer.

    6. Leela June 19, 2010 at 1:34 am #

      cleverbean – That crossed my mind too. The only way to make this last longer is to process the cherries in sterilized jars and seal them using the hot water canning method. I’m kind of apprehensive about canning a recipe the pH level of which has not been proved suitable for canning. (Botulism and all that, you know …) Besides, the beauty of this recipe is that it’s a refrigerator/quick pickling method which results in the texture of the fresh fruit being largely retained. Canning may take away those benefits.

      But you may want to give it a try. I know homemade maraschino and brandied cherries can be canned. As for the pH level, I’ve told that adding 1/4 teaspoon of citric acid to each 1-pint jar increases the acidity to a safe level. Can’t confirm, though.

      One thing I know for a fact won’t work is to freeze whole cherries then pickle them months from now. That drastically changes the texture of the cherries.

    7. My Man's Belly June 19, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

      So that’s what I can do with all those cherries I keep buying. The best part is…I don’t even have to pit them first.

    8. Julia June 20, 2010 at 11:32 am #

      Gosh darn this looks so good. We are in winter at the moment, so cherries are out of season. I can’t wait for summer though; I so look forward to trying these!

    9. Dana June 20, 2010 at 10:06 pm #

      What an interesting idea! I’ve been playing around with a pickled grapes idea for the last little while, I imagine pickled cherries would be great!

      Do the peppercorns give them quite a bit of zip?

    10. Leela June 21, 2010 at 12:27 am #

      Dana – Not so much unless you crack them. Glad you mentioned that, because I think there’s something about these pickled cherries that makes them go very, very well with things that are peppery, spicy. These and cheeses that have spicy add-ins such as cracked pepper are so delicious together

      Go ahead and crack those peppercorns. 🙂

    11. OysterCulture June 26, 2010 at 2:21 pm #

      What an absolutely delicious sounding treat! Unfortunately we fall into the camp that we get cherries and they are quickly devoured. I’ll just have to buy extra and hide them so I can make this dish.

      I wonder what sort of a shelf like they have? I’d be interested in possibly canning some to enjoy during the winter months. How beautiful would these be on a pork roast?

    12. Tangled Noodle June 29, 2010 at 1:47 pm #

      Pickled cherries are undoubtedly as delicious as they are beautiful in your photos!

    13. Arwen from Hoglet K July 1, 2010 at 7:21 pm #

      I don’t think I’ve had pickled fruit before, except for Indian lime pickles. The spice blend sounds lovely, and something sweet and sour is perfect with cheese.

    14. Anonymous September 3, 2010 at 4:50 pm #

      Hello, just discovered your Blog here in Luxembourg.
      Great recipe. In France we use cherries with a lot of savoury dishes and mostly roasted pork as Oysterculture mentions or more famously DUCK(absolute winner !). The tartness of the pickle balances the greasy meats very well and the colours are a treat. I have added powdered cocoa in mine as well to add the lovely sirupy velvety touch and little bitterness i enjoy. Still have to try it though but it needs a few days on the shelf to get all these flavours mixing !
      Great to have all you thaï recipes as well ! Keep the good work on the she indexes front !

    15. Leela September 4, 2010 at 12:49 am #

      Melanie – Thanks. The addition of cocoa sounds really, really good! 🙂

    16. Anonymous July 7, 2012 at 9:55 pm #

      I found another recipe for sweet pickled cherries and you pack the jars with cherries. Boil the vinegar/sugar and spice solution then pour into the jars and process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Will definetly be trying this as my oldest daughter loves pickles


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